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The Ashmolean Announces Its First Major Exhibition: The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy
Edward Burne-Jones, ‘Music’, 1877. Oil on canvas, 67.7 x 43.5 cm. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
OXFORD.- On 16 September 2010 the Ashmolean launches its first major art exhibition in one of the country’s newest and most important temporary exhibition centres. THE PRE-RAPHAELITES AND ITALY brings together over 140 pictures from the Ashmolean’s important Pre-Raphaelite collection with loans from museums and private collections around the UK and abroad, some of which will be displayed in Britain for the first time.

Held in partnership with the Ravenna Museum of Art, where the exhibition opened to critical acclaim, THE PRE-RAPHAELITES AND ITALY challenges what we know about the influence of Italy - its culture, landscape, and history - on one of Britain's most significant and enduringly popular art movements.

In re-examining their early years, curators Colin Harrison and Christopher Newall aim to shed new light on the artists who emerged as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the 1850s. From the influence of the movement’s champion, John Ruskin – one of Italy’s most dedicated tourists - to their illustrations of early Italian art and literature, the exhibition explores the idea of Italy itself - a place which captured the imagination of a whole generation of British men and women and which was the source of such varied artistic responses.

The artist with the most interesting and idiosyncratic relationship with Italy was the founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Despite being the son of an Italian exile, brought up in a household where Italian was spoken, and learning from an early age about his own rich cultural heritage, Rossetti remarkably never visited Italy himself. In his memoirs he recorded his intentions to make this ‘pilgrimage’, but on many occasions, he failed to set out. Bringing together works from major British collections, such as Tate’s Monna Vanna and the V&A’s Borgia Family, with studies from private collections, the exhibition looks at this peculiar fact of Rossetti’s biography, in contrast to the work of his peers who undertook and recorded celebrated Italian journeys.

Highlights of the exhibition have been made possible with exciting loans from private and international collections. United for the first time in Britain are the magnificent drawings by Edward Burne-Jones, for the mosaics of the American Church in Rome. The most prominent Pre-Raphaelite painters, such as William Holman Hunt and John Brett, are represented with major works which have been rarely displayed in public.

The fascination and pure joy which Italy inspired in these artists permeates the whole exhibition – and aims to resonate with the affection and interest which people still have for Italy today. The Museum’s Director, Dr Christopher Brown says, “THE PRE-RAPHAELITES AND ITALY is a real triumph for the Ashmolean. Displaying one of the great strengths of our own collection with loans from around the world has allowed us to put on an exhibition which is both a visual delight, and an interesting and revealing treatment of the subject.”

Ashmolean | THE PRE-RAPHAELITES AND ITALY | Ravenna Museum of Art | Colin Harrison | Christopher Newall |


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